2014 has already been an unforgettable year for Penn women’s basketball. Luckily for the Quakers, the program shouldn’t be lacking excitement anytime soon.
Following an outstanding season in which the Red and Blue captured their first Ivy League title since 2003-04, Penn brought its summer to a close with a 10-day trip to Italy in mid-August.
And while some may view the trip solely as a reward for the Quakers’ success last season, it’s clear that the journey is a mixture of both pleasure and business for Penn.
In addition to spending time sightseeing in Milan, Venice and Rome, the Red and Blue also played three games against various Italian and German professional squads over the course of their trip.
“For a basketball program, number one we’re grateful for the opportunity to go and we’re grateful for the support of the alums for giving us this opportunity,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “It gives us a chance to look forward to the year coming.”
The Red and Blue kicked off their trip in Philadelphia on Aug. 11. After a short flight to New York, the Quakers then departed for Milan where they spent three days and played their first matchup against a select team of Italian all-stars.
With strong efforts from a number of key returning players, the Quakers topped the Italians, 69-39. Sophomore center Sydney Stipanovich led the way with 19 points, while senior Kathleen Roche, senior Kara Bonenberger and sophomore Melanie Lockett also scored in double figures.
Over the course of the next six days, the team spent one day each in Venice, Florence, La Spezia and Pisa before wrapping up its trip with a two-day stint in Rome. The team also took a day trip to Switzerland while staying in Milan and played its final two games on consecutive days while in La Spezia and Pisa.
The first contest against La Spezia went much the same way as the team’s first game of the international trip, with the Quakers taking down the Italian team, 78-49, behind another balanced attack. Stipanovich once again led the way with 23 points, and the Red and Blue benefitted from a pair of second-half three pointers from junior Brooklyn Juday.
Against the German team Chemcats Chemnitz, however, things would take a slight turn for the worse as the Quakers fell, 62-56. Penn fell behind by 18 midway through the third quarter and never fully recovered.
Due to NCAA rules, the Red and Blue’s four incoming freshmen were ineligible to play and unable to travel with the team. Penn was also without forward Stephanie Cheney, who recently left the team after only one season with the program.
Nonetheless, as the Quakers transition into a new era — one without recent graduates Alyssa Baron, Meghan McCullough, Kristen Kody and Courtney Wilson — Penn had the chance to develop its culture and players’ abilities while on the court in Italy.
“We want to see who fits well together and plays well together,” senior forward Katy Allen said. “And obviously things will change by November, but it will be nice because it’ll be different without the four seniors from last year.”
Though Allen did not play overseas due to her ongoing recovery from a broken foot at the end of last season, the veteran looked forward to utilizing her position as a team leader to help the squad grow.
“Just to kind of organize drills and get people back into the swing of things, I think that’s a good chance for us [seniors] to step up as leaders,” Allen said. “I guess [the injury recovery] could be a chance for me to step up in my role on the bench and see some things that I can help the other players out with.”
Last summer, Penn men’s basketball traveled to Italy in preparation for its upcoming season. It’s clear that the Quakers’ feedback following their experience abroad is fresh in the minds of McLaughlin’s squad.
“Right when [the men’s team] came back, we asked them how it went and they all said they loved it,” Allen said. before the trip “I’m looking forward to it based on what they said.”
And while the trip’s impact on the court may pay dividends in the long run for the Quakers, the personal ramifications are what matter most.
“I think it’s a very rewarding trip for them,” McLaughlin said. “It’s something that they’ll cherish for a very long time.”
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